(CNN) - Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday tried to knock down Republican criticism of how the case of accused "Undiebomber" Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab was handled, pointing out that previous suspects went through civilian courts without GOP objections.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, asked Holder last week to explain the decision to put AbdulMutallab before a judge rather than a military tribunal. In a Sunday appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" and a Wednesday speech to the Heritage Foundation, McConnell called the decision to try suspected terrorists before civilian courts a "mistake."
But in his response to McConnell, Holder told the GOP leader that similar procedures "were not criticized when employed by previous administrations."
"The decision to charge Mr. AbdulMutallab in federal court, and the methods used to interrogate him, are fully consistent with the long-established and publicly known policies and practices of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the United States government as a whole, as implemented for many years by administrations of both parties," Holder wrote, citing a series of Bush administration decisions to support his argument.
Read the facts and the bottom line after the jump:
Fact Check: Are GOP objections to civilian trials for terrorists new?
- The treatment given AbdulMutallab, the man accused of trying to blow up a Michigan-bound jetliner on Christmas Day with explosives hidden in his underwear, has become a rallying cry for GOP critics of the Obama administration. Holder's response echoes a charge leveled by several Obama administration supporters, suggesting today's objections are motivated by politics, not policy.
- McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told CNN that the issue isn't politics, but flexibility. He said U.S. officials should have learned from previous cases like those of Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui that such trials are "disruptive."
- McConnell didn't raise objections to convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid being tried before a civilian court. Stewart said there was no option to try Reid, who tried to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner in December 2001, before military tribunal at the time, and the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had not yet been set up to hold suspected terrorists.
- The Bush administration began drawing up plans for those tribunals in late 2001, and Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters in 2002 that the Justice Department had considered and rejected a military court for Reid. But Stewart said both the Reid and Moussaoui cases ultimately required extensive security and, in Moussaoui's case, a lengthy sentencing process.
"If you didn't know there was a problem at the time and now you know and you don't raise a concern, is consistency smart?" he asked.
- McConnell did fight talk of moving prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in 2007, while the Bush administration pondered whether to close the prison under pressure from a newly elected Democratic Congress. A McConnell-authored resolution opposing any plans to move prisoners to U.S. facilities passed the Senate on a 94-3 vote in July 2007.
Bottom line: McConnell did lead objections to transferring Guantanamo inmates to U.S. prisons. His objections to civilian trials for terrorists came only after cases like Moussaoui and Reid had been prosecuted in civilian courts by the Bush administration.